The U.S. Department of Agriculture has documented 22 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act in a four month period at two Texas roadside zoos owned by Jason Clay.
Clay owns Franklin Drive Thru Safari in Franklin, TX, and East Texas Zoo and Gator Park in Grand Saline, TX.
In June 2021, the USDA inspected the Franklin Drive Thru Safari location and found there was no attending veterinarian for the animals at the facility. A giraffe and a hippo had died “acutely and suspiciously” but no veterinarian had been contacted for the animals before or after their death, according to the report.
The inspector documented injured animals, filthy enclosures and enclosures in need of repairs.
The USDA requires roadside zoos to keep acquisition records for all of the animals they acquire and to keep disposition records for all of the animals they transport, sell, euthanize, or otherwise dispose of so the agency can ensure their legal acquisition, proper care, and humane transportation
The inspector found the acquisition records for more than 139 animals were missing and the disposition records for 73 animals were missing.
The facility was cited with seven violations for the infractions. The USDA also cited Clay with an Official Warning which indicated that if they found evidence of future violations they may pursue civil penalties, criminal prosecution, or other sanctions.
In August 2021, the USDA inspected the East Texas Zoo and Gator Park location and cited the facility with 11 violations.
The inspector found two capybaras that were so thin their backbone was prominently visible and their condition had not been reported to a veterinarian.
East Texas Zoo allows the public to have unsupervised contact with the giraffe, capybara, tapir, kangaroo, and various hoof stock, according to the USDA report, and there were no barriers or readily identifiable attendants visible during these interactions.
The facility also has a baby room where the public is allowed to interact directly with young animals including two coatimundis, a fennec fox, four armadillos, and two ferrets. During the inspection, a coatimundi was continuously crawling up the inspector’s leg.
The facility representative made the comment “the animals crawling on people and scratching people are part of the experience,” according to the inspection report.
Inside the food preparation area, the inspector found a large number of flies flying around and landing on the food preparation table and food items. The inspector found open bags of food sitting on shelves next to medications and cleaning products. In the area housing dry food, several of the bags had been torn open, possibly by a raccoon.
The facility had no written plan for environmental enhancement for the primates which is required to promote their psychological well-being.
The inspector found the facilities for the giraffe were inappropriate. The fence was sagging and certain areas of the fence were leaning inwards. The facility had put up metal panels and gates to support the fence but the inspector noted the panels and gates posed a risk for the giraffe to become entangled in and possibly injured.
“As he grows and increases in weight it is very likely he will be able to push this fence down,” the inspector said in the report.
The giraffe and muntjac enclosures also did not have a perimeter fence which posed an escape risk for the animals.
“Recapturing the giraffe would be dangerous for the giraffe and for the people involved,” the inspector noted.
The inspector found that the otter enclosure was filthy and had accumulated feces and a strong smell of ammonia.
“The facility uses some type of greenish dye in the pool, the purpose of which is unclear,” the inspector said. “This dye makes it difficult to determine the quality of the water in the pool, however, there was a greenish ring around the top of the water indicating the water had not been changed recently.”
The inspector also found the acquisition records for 21 animals were missing and the disposition record for 40 animals were missing.
In September 2021, the USDA conducted another inspection at Franklin Drive Thru Safari and cited them with four more violations.
The inspector found the Celebes and squirrel monkey enclosures had an accumulation of old food materials and an excessive accumulation of feces, according to the inspection report.
Inside the enclosure of a critically endangered mangabey monkey, the inspector found the desiccated remains of a dead rat that appeared to have been there for several days.
An enclosure of pigs had no water to drink and when they were provided with water they were observed drinking for a “considerable amount of time” until the water bowl was empty, according to the report.
“The level of thirst the pigs displayed indicates they were not comfortable,” according to the USDA report. “The facility needs to provide the pigs with water more often or devise a system that allows the pigs to have continuous access to water.”
The pig enclosure had an accumulation of feces in the corner. An enclosure for a fossa had an accumulation of old bones. The inspector ordered the facility to clean the enclosures more frequently.
Franklin Drive Thru Safari was also missing the acquisition records for 15 animals and there were no disposition records available for 42 animals.
From June-September the USDA documented more than 330 animals that were either acquired or disposed of without documentation at East Texas Zoo and Gator Park and Franklin Drive Thru Safari in the past year.
In November 2019, New York’s Animal Adventure Park sold a giraffe named Azizi to East Texas Zoo and Gator Park. Azizi lived with another giraffe named Loki. In October 2020, Azizi died at East Texas Zoo and Gator Park, allegedly of a “twisted gut.” He was less than two years old.
In September 2021, East Texas Zoo and Gator Park removed Loki from their facility and moved him to an undisclosed location “in order to comply with the new USDA regulations concerning his enclosure as well as others,” according to a social media post. The facility has since removed posts about Loki and they’ve banned concerned followers from commenting on their posts. Loki has not been returned to the facility and his whereabouts are unknown.
Clay is on felony deferred probation for severely beating a man at a bar in 2017 and for stealing a disabled individual’s lottery ticket in 2018 and cashing it in for $180,000. As part of Clay’s felony probation requirements, he is not to break any laws.
The rampant animal neglect at his facilities, the illegal wildlife trafficking and the 22 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act that Clay has been cited for between June and September appear to be violations of the terms of his felony probation.
Franklin Drive Thru Safari June Inspection Report:
East Texas Zoo and Gator Park August Inspection Report:
Franklin Drive Thru Safari September Inspection Report: